CRY, BELOVED COUNTRY
How Africa Became the Victim of a Non-Existent Epidemic of HIV/AIDS
By Neville Hodgkinson
AIDS; Virus or Drug Induced?
Centre, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, Oxford, UK
It has become increasingly clear during
the 1990's that in prosperous, developed countries, AIDS is remaining almost
exclusively confined to people with clearly defined risks to their immune
system regardless of HIV. These risks include heavy drug use, promiscuous
receptive anal intercourse, or, as with the injections given to patients
with haemophilia before the arrival of high purity Factor 8, repeated exposure
to other people's blood. In Britain, out of a cumulative total of 6929
cases of AIDS in the first ten years of the epidemic, only 63 were in heterosexuals
who were not obvious members of one of the known risk groups. In the United
States, a 1992 National Research Council report found that many geographical
areas and population groups were virtually untouched by AIDS, and would
probably remain so.
These facts do not fit the theory that
the world is in the grip of a deadly new infectious disease, putting at
risk almost all sexually active people. However, that theory appeared to
gain support from reports that millions of Africans are HIV-infected,
and that hundreds of thousands are dying from the disease, with men and
women equally at risk. What is happening to Africa today, it was argued,
should serve as a warning of what may happen to the rest of the world tomorrow,
even if it takes longer than had been expected.
In March, 1993, a television documentary
was shown in Britain which challenged the by now conventional view of Africa
as a land devastated by AIDS. It was based on a two-month investigation
in Uganda and the Ivory Coast, and was made by Meditel, an independent
company that had previously aired the views of scientists who argue HIV
is not the cause of AIDS. It concluded that Africa was not in the grip
of an AIDS epidemic, but that panic over the disease was leading to a tragic
diversion of resources from genuine medical needs.
The film crew were accompanied during their
inquiries by Dr. Harvey Bialy, a scientist with long experience of Africa,
whom I interviewed at the time for an article in The Sunday Times. He
had concluded there was 'absolutely no believable, persuasive evidence
that Africa is in the midst of a new epidemic of infectious immuno-deficiency'.
But because international funds were available for AIDS and HIV work, politicians
and health workers had an incentive to classify traditional African diseases
as AIDS. The problem was compounded by the fact that HIV testing was frequently
misleading in Africa, as the tests reacted to antibodies to other diseases,
producing high rates of false positives.
Bialy, a microbiologist working as research
editor of Bio/Technology magazine, has been visiting Africa since
1975, and has spent a total of eight years working there. On the face of
it, this gave him considerably more authority than the large numbers of
western scientists and other workers whose first exposure to the continent
was brought about by AIDS.
He was angry that so many damaging claims
had been made about AIDS in Africa on the basis of so little science. 'The
only utterly new phenomenon I have seen is in the drug-abusing prostitutes
in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast', he told me. 'These girls come from Ghana,
from families of prostitutes who are brought in by the busload. They have
been doing this for generations, and never became sick until now. What
is new is that these girls are addicted to viciously adulterated, smokeable
heroin and cocaine. It completely destroys them. They look exactly like
the inner-city crack-addicted prostitutes of the United States.'
'Otherwise, I have seen malaria, tuberculosis,
diarrhoeal diseases, which arguably have got more severe; but by all the
laws of scientific reasoning this is caused by the general economic decline
in these countries, the decline of health care and the development of drug-resistant
strains. All these things can explain exactly what is going on much more
efficiently and persuasively, and to much greater good for the public health,
than saying the diseases are being made worse by HIV'.
Our four-column story about these and
other doubts, headlined 'Epidemic of AIDS in Africa 'a tragic myth', brought
a crop of contrary assertions, but no evidence in rebuttal. My confidence
in the story was further boosted by an astonishing statement Bialy had
made about the HIV test.
Bio/Technology had a paper in press,
he told me, which did more than highlight a problem with false positives:
it challenged the very basis of the test as indicating the presence of
a specific virus, arguing that it had never been validated against the
accepted 'gold standard' for a diagnostic test, isolation of the virus
I found this hard to take in, and did not
pursue the story further immediately. But over subsequent weeks, I studied
the paper concerned and corresponded with the main author, Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos,
a biophysicist at the Royal Perth Hospital. To my continuing astonishment
I found that there was indeed a mass of evidence, pulled together in Eleopulos's
enormous review article, that what had come to be called 'the AIDS test'
was scientifically invalid. The proteins detected by the test kits were
not specific to a unique retrovirus. Positive results were produced in
people whose immune systems had been activated by a wide variety of conditions,
including tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, malaria, malnutrition, and
even a course of flu jabs. Patients with AIDS, and promiscuous gay men
leading lives likely to expose their immune systems to multiple challenges,
were certainly much more likely to test positive than healthy Americans,
but for reasons that need not have anything to do with a deadly new virus.
The possible implications of the Bio/Technology
article for an understanding of AIDS in Africa were clearly enormous.
African countries were those where the tests might be at their most meaningless,
because of the widespread ill-health caused by malnutrition and associated
chronic diseases. Had an entire continent been panicked by western scientists
into believing it was in the grip of a deadly epidemic, on the basis of
a test that had never been shown to be valid for the retrovirus whose presence
it was claimed to detect?
I faxed the article to four virus experts
in case some glaring error invalidating its reasoning had been missed by
Bio/Technology. One did not reply, and another preferred not to
comment. A third, Dr. Philip Mortimer, of the Virus Reference Division
at Britain's Central Public Health Laboratory, wrote a courteous reply
acknowledging that the article 'does make some fair points about the weakness
of the western blot test when it is used incautiously and without followup'.
He added, however, that 'the situation it describes is not typical of this
country where initial positive serological (antibody) screening tests are
confirmed by (i) further investigations, usually a combination of different
ELISA assays but sometimes including Western Blot and (ii) a test of a
followup specimen. Only if the positive reactions on both specimens
are confirmed, usually in a reference laboratory, is a positive report
issued'. Perhaps this more stringent procedure helped to explain why Britain
had only some 23 000 seropositive people, compared with an estimated 1
million in the United States and multimillions in Africa. But Eleopulos
et al. had not just criticised the Western Blot test. They had cited
evidence indicating that the ELISA test might be equally meaningless. In
Russia in 1990, for example, out of 20 000 positive screening tests, only
112 were confirmed using western blot. A similar study in 1991 confirmed
only 66 out of approximately 30 000 positive test results. Clearly, by
using multiple tests giving very different results, false positives would
be greatly reduced. But this still did not answer Eleopulos's charge that
there was nothing in the literature to indicate why any of the tests
should be considered reliable as indicating the presence of a specific
retrovirus. Besides, even if the damage done by false positives was being
reduced in the UK by repeated testing, that was no comfort with regard
to the situation in Africa, where because of cost considerations, most
HIV diagnoses were being made on the basis of a single test.
Dr. Mortimer also commented that diagnostic
capability had recently been advanced by the introduction of a commercial
polymerase chain reaction assay for detecting minute quantities of HIV
'Comparison of results using this procedure
with those obtained by antibody tests show a very close correlation confirming
the reliability of HIV antibody tests', he wrote. However, as the Bio/Technology
paper pointed out, this correlation might be the result of some quite
different cause common to both the PCR test and the antibody test. PCR
signalled the presence of only a small stretch of genetic material; perhaps
it was picking up the presence of a sequence made detectable by the same
stimulus as that which caused a person to test antibodypositive, a
stimulus which need not have anything to do with 'HIV'. The Bio/Technology
paper cited evidence in support of this idea. For example, a positive
PCR reverted to negative when exposure to risk factors was discontinued;
and monocytes from HIVpositive patients in which no HIV DNA could
be detected, even by PCR, became positive for HIV RNA after immune activation
by cocultivation with activated Tcells.
The fourth virus expert was Professor Robin
Weiss, head of the Chester Beatty Laboratories at the Institute of Cancer
Research, London, who with Dr. Richard Tedder, a virologist at the Middlesex
Hospital in London, developed and patented Britain's first HIV test in
conjunction with the Wellcome drug company. Dr. Weiss took the trouble
to write a twopage letter concerning the Bio/Technology paper.
His tone was set in the first paragraph: 'It is the sort of paper I would
have stopped reading by paragraph 5 if you hadn't requested an opinion'.
Later, he commented: 'Sorry, if the authors were my students, I'd mark
this essay Bminus. Of the 1000 or so papers on HIV/AIDS that must
have been published in the last six months, I'd put this in the bottom
10% for being worth reporting'. He acknowledged that the paper might have
had some merit if it had been published around 1986/7, as 'there were serious
difficulties and much variation in assessing Western Blot data, and some
of the ELISA tests were still giving false positives'. But since then,
he argued, the tests had been greatly improved because they used HIV antigens
produced in bacteria by recombinant DNA technology, rather than grown from
sera taken from AIDS patients.
It seemed to me that he had not answered
the central complaint, that no one had ever established that the proteins
held to indicate the active presence of HIV really are related to the virus
in people who test positive, as opposed to other possibilities raised by
the Bio/Technology authors. I wrote back along those lines. Robin
Weiss responded with a short, unreferenced assertion: 'As I wrote, that
might have been a valid argument six years ago, but not today as the proteins
have been specific for some years'.
On August 1, 1993, the Editor ran our most
challenging story to date across the top of the front page. The headline
read: 'New Doubts Over AIDS Infections As HIV Test Declared Invalid'. The
The 'AIDS test' is scientifically invalid
and incapable of determining whether people are really infected with HIV,
according to a new report by a team of Australian scientists who have conducted
the first extensive review of research surrounding the test.
Doctors should think again about its use,
say the authors. 'A positive HIV status has such profound implications
that nobody should be required to bear this burden without solid guarantees
of the verity of the test and its interpretation', they conclude. The findings,
likely to cause intense debate in the medical fraternity and anguish for
many HIVpositive people, are contained in an article published by
the respected science journal, Bio/Technology. Many people who appear
to be infected by HIV, say the researchers, can be suffering from other
conditions such as malaria or malnutrition that produce a positive result
in the test. Even flu jabs can produce the same effect. As a result, predictions
by the World Health Organisation that millions are set to die because of
being HIVpositive may be wildly inaccurate. The paper also lends powerful
support to the theory, held by growing numbers of scientists, that HIV
is not the true cause of AIDS. One of its authors, Eleni Eleopulous, a
biophysicist at the Royal Perth Hospital, said this weekend: 'There is
no proof that people labelled as 'HIVpositive' are infected with such
a retrovirus. We should really question the role of HIV in the causation
The claims were so at odds with conventional
thinking on this enormously important subject that I had been nervous of
writing the article, having already had to cope with huge waves of fierce
criticism and comment in relation to previous articles questioning the
HIV theory of AIDS. But this time, there was hardly a word of protest,
let alone any arguments of rebuttal. No scientific papers to validate the
tests. And no comment elsewhere in the media. We were being privately 'rubbished'
by the AIDS experts to whom specialist writers turn in such cases. But
it seemed their case was too weak for them to wish to state it publicly.
This gave me the push I needed to undertake
a venture that the Editor had long since approved, namely, to mount our
own investigation of AIDS in Africa. Was the situation as described by
Harvey Bialy in Uganda and Ivory Coast also true of other central African
countries? On August 18, armed with the Bio/Technology paper, I flew
to Nairobi, Kenya and began to make inquiries.
It soon became clear to me that because
of the idea that HIV was lethal and rampant, there was a consensus belief
that one could hardly be too alarmist in public pronouncements about Aids.
The Kenya Times, for example, earlier that year had reported estimates
by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) that the country had about
100 000 AIDS cases, and about one million people 'who have the AIDScausing
virus'. It added that 'once a person is infected with the killer disease,
his next step is definitely death'. But the figures were impressionistic.
They were put out by researchers who had been alarmed to find that about
half of the people going to various hospitals for general medical reasons
were testing positive. Perhaps the whole edifice of fear and concern sprang
from a scientifically unvalidated test, and a misinterpretation of the
meaning of a positive test result.
According to KEMRI's Dr George Gachihi,
'when you see a young man or woman die after a short illness, chances are
that he succumbed to the AIDS disease'. It was that perspective which led
the Kenya Times to report that 'thousands of Kenyans die each year
from AIDS, though the certificates always indicate that they died from
other causes'. When one looked at the figures through the perspective of
the Bio/Technology critique, however, there was no longer any need
to see the deaths as other than from the stated causes. Similarly, despite
stories about hospitals being filled to overflowing with AIDS victims,
when I visited the huge Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi I found that
although there was immense overcrowding, only a handful of patients had
been admitted with an AIDS diagnosis.
I also found that political factors were
playing a part. Kenya had lost an estimated $300 m in desperately needed
foreign currency in November 1991, when the industrialized world tried
to force political and economic reform on the country by cutting aid. A
recent crisis announcement on AIDS by the country's health minister was
seen within the international aid community as an attempt to win back donor
sympathy and funds, according to the journal Africa Confidential. 'A
farfromveiled theory in circulation says figures which show AIDS
spiralling out of control have been massaged to extract sympathy', the
'In stark contrast to the recent past,
when AIDS was a banned subject to protect the tourist industry, the press
has started reporting ever more startling increases in AIDS cases and newspapers
are competing for horror stories of AIDS deaths'.
It did seem to be true that doctors were
reporting growing numbers of AIDS cases, especially among prostitutes.
But in this latter group, the actual cause of death was often unknown.
When a prostitute who had tested HIVpositive subsequently disappeared,
it was assumed that she had gone back to her home town to die of AIDS.
I also found that researchers knew nothing of the doubts over the HIV test,
and had not established the extent to which the increase in cases of immune
system dysfunction was genuinely the result of a new virus, as opposed
to a consequence of an intensification in longestablished threats
to health. According to some observers, poverty had driven millions of
women into prostitution, and young African males had also been drawn into
There was nothing to support the apocalyptic
vision of Africa's future espoused by the World Health Organisation on
the basis of its HIV statistics. I found in Kenya as elsewhere that the
statistics were often based on small clinical surveys, with the results
then writ large by computer to form an estimate for the country
as a whole and all this using a test which the Bio/Technology
paper had shown to be unvalidated and probably invalid. One WHO official
told me: 'AIDS is there. No doubt about it. And it is widespread and increasing.
My colleagues in the other countries can tell you the same'. But she added
frankly: 'If you come with this postulate that there are a lot of false
HIVpositives, it is very difficult to tell'.
The first story I filed back to The
Sunday Times focused on the experience of a remarkable doctor whom
I met in Nairobi, Father Angelo D'Agostino. Then aged 67, he was a former
surgeon who trained as a Jesuit priest and became a professor of psychiatry
in Washington before going to Africa ten years previously. In 1992 he had
founded Nyumbani, a hospice for abandoned and orphaned HIVpositive
children, after finding that because of the panic over AIDS, nowhere else
would take them in. Regardless of HIV, there were good reasons why the
foundlings, whose plight he learned of through work with a local Barnardo's
home, should often perish. Abandoned by their shocked and stigmatised HIVpositive
mothers, the children died of multiple infections, malnutrition, and misery.
'People think a positive test means no
hope, so the children are relegated to the back wards of hospitals which
have no resources, and they die', D'Agostino said. 'They are very sick
when they come to us. Usually they are depressed, withdrawn, and silent.
Some have been in very poor conditions. But as a result of their care here,
they put on weight, recover from their infections, and thrive. Hygiene
is excellent, that they wouldn't have in the slums they have usually been
living in. Nutrition is very good: they get vitamin supplements, cod liver
oil, greens every day, plenty of protein. They are really flourishing.
Even one that came in with TB is doing better now'.
A year on from opening the hospice, D'Agostino
was puzzled. Elsewhere in Kenya and across subSaharan Africa, according
to WHO, tens of thousands of children were dying because of HIV, usually
in their first year. But most of the Nyumbani babies were thriving, as
I knew from spending a couple of hours there with several of them crawling
all over me. Only one of the first 45 children had been lost a sixweekold
who was so sick when she came that she had to go to hospital almost immediately,
and died two weeks later.
In an extensive interview, D'Agostino told
me: 'I'm a physician, and I bought the theory that HIV is the cause of
AIDS. But there are not a lot of things I would die for, and certainly
not a scientific hypothesis. In fact, I would welcome with open arms any
proof that these children will be free of disease'.
'It is surprising. We expected more deaths,
and a lot more serious illness. According to most predictions, the children
should have died within two to three months of coming to us. Instead, we
have now had to set up a nursery school, which I didn't think would be
needed, and I'm planning to negotiate their entry into primary school'.
He had also been preparing to establish group therapy for the mothers and
other caregivers, to deal with their grief at the loss of the children.
Instead, the only losses were happy ones: some of the children became HIVnegative,
and were taken back by relatives or ordinary children's homes. Even those
who persistently tested positive were staying well. 'I don't have any explanation
for it. Will they be alive this time next year? I have no reason to doubt
it: they are healthy'.
As my travels progressed, through Zambia,
Zimbabwe and Tanzania, it became more and more obvious that there were
great uncertainties over the extent of African AIDS. The belief that there
was an epidemic had taken root in many people's minds, and some unexpected
or unexplained deaths tended to be seen in the light of this belief. But
was there really a new, clearly identifiable clinical condition?
In Lusaka, Zambia, I was told by Guy Scott,
an MP and former cabinet minister, that the disease threatens to orphan
2 million children, and to take the lives of large numbers of staff in companies,
public utilities, and government. 'It is ripping through the system. It
is an absolute disaster', he said. Screening surveys conducted in late
1992 had found that as many as four out of ten sexually active people were
testing HIVpositive, spurring the government into launching a new
But several doctors at the University Teaching
Hospital in Lusaka had a different view. They responded warmly to the Bio/Technology
paper, finding that it reflected and helped to explain their own experience.
They had been particularly puzzled by an enormous gap between reports of
people testing HIVpositive, and the number of people reported as falling
ill with AIDS fewer than 1000 a year, in a nation of 8 million people.
Dr. Franci Kasolo, head of virology, said
work in his department suggested the HIV figures could not be taken at
face value. 'We have found a big problem with false positives', he said.
'When we repeat the tests, there are a lot of disparities in the results.
A test kit from one manufacturer behaves differently from another's'. The
conclusion was that 'most of our results are more or less compromised'.
Most of the country's 80 testing centres
were unable to afford confirmatory Western Blot testing after an initial
positive ELISA. And in any case, the Western Blot produced widely differing
results. A third, rapid test had been shown to produce up to 40% false
Dr. Wilfrid Boayue, the WHO representative
in Zambia, said the recent surveys had shown such a big increase in positive
results compared with six to seven years previously, when the proportion
was only about 5 to 8%, that he shared concern that the country was in
the grip of an HIV epidemic. Kasolo, however, thought changes in the type
of test kit used might contribute to the changing picture. He had a lot
of experience with this, because international aid for developing countries
is often tied to use of materials provided by the donor nations, and the
donors keep changing.
'Most of the kits are supplied by the donors.
If one decides not to provide funds any more, we move to another who will,
and the kits come from that country instead. So the kits vary a lot: reporting
can be high or low, depending on the kit. We have had individuals tested
in one laboratory, and told they are positive, who move on to another,
where they are negative. It is important that we address the whole issue
of HIV in Africa scientifically. There is something going on that we do
not understand'. Dr. Sitali Maswenyeho, a paediatrician at the University
Teaching Hospital and former fellow in AIDS research at the University
of Miami, said he had long argued against the HIV test. 'It's nonspecific',
he said. 'The test itself is killing a lot of people here. The stigma is
doing the damage. We have malnutrition, bad water, poor sanitation, and
when on top of that you are told you have an incurable disease, that really
cuts off people's lives'.
Despite concerns over the validity of the
HIV test, the presence of a severe form of immune system failure, affecting
mainly sexually active people, was widely acknowledged. But there was argument
over its causes. Kasolo maintained that a variety of sexually transmitted
infections might be responsible, a view shared by many older Zambians.
Others felt it might be associated with overuse of aphrodisiac drugs,
made from plant sources.
David Chipanta, 22, an HIVpositive
man helping with the work of an AIDS education and counselling organization,
said: 'People in the villages tell us it is not new, but that it has become
worse because of promiscuity'. Despite disagreeing with that view
he argued that promiscuity was itself nothing new he supported the
challenge to HIV testing.
In Zimbabwe, health authorities were convinced
that AIDS was a real threat, but Dr. Timothy Stamps, the minister of health
and child welfare, was also concerned that WHO and the 'AIDS industry'
had fostered a damaging epidemic of what he called 'HIVitis' in Africa.
'My basic worry is that it's distracting money and attention and personnel
from the known problems such as malaria, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted
diseases and safe motherhood', he said. He was particularly disturbed by
WHO advice discouraging women who had tested HIVpositive from breastfeeding
Despite clear evidence confirming the thesis
that the HIV story was gravely flawed, it was hard for me to be sure, when
faced with widely differing views among those I met, whether or not some
new, epidemic condition was afflicting Africa. But in Tanzania, I met two
medically trained charity workers whose dramatic testimony provided the
clearest evidence yet that the continent was not engulfed by an epidemic
of AIDS and a profound insight into how the story of an epidemic
had come about.
In midlife, after finding they could
have no children of their own, Philippe and Evelyne Krynen trained in France
as nurses, with a specialist qualification in tropical medicine, in order
to be able to dedicate the rest of their lives helping Third World orphans.
In 1988, they travelled through central Africa looking for a suitable place
to set up a branch of the French charity Partage, which had agreed to support
them. They heard that the remote Kagera province in northern Tanzania,
where Africa's first cases of AIDS were diagnosed as far back as 1983,
was now an epicentre of the disease, which had orphaned thousands of children.
After a threeday journey to the province
in January 1989, a tour of the worsthit places conducted by a local
Lutheran bishop seemed to confirm everything they had been told. Whole
villages were being destroyed, people were dying continuously in and around
the main township of Bukoba, and HIV testing suggested up to half the sexually
active population was infected.
Philippe, now 51, a former pilot, and Evelyne,
43, a teacher, prepared an illustrated report on their findings, Voyage
des Krynen en Tanzanie, which was to prove a catalyst for world interest
in the social impact of AIDS in Africa. It presented a dramatic picture:
children alone in houses emptied of adults, or abandoned into the care
of grandparents; a football team destroyed by the disease; old people sitting
alone with their dead; black crosses painted at the entrances of AIDSstricken
'Here, AIDS does not choose its victims
among marginal groups', they wrote. 'It touches the entire sexually active
population, men and women alike. Extreme sexual liberty, a weak sense of
hygiene and a lack of medical and social support have made the populations
of these parts a particularly homogeneous risk group'.
As I reported in The Sunday Times, it
was a message that Western medical and charitable agencies, urgently wanting
to alert people to the perceived dangers of HIV and AIDS, were more than
ready to hear. US, French and Belgian newspapers, magazines and television
stations took up the story. Aspects of it are still being quoted around
the world by AIDS organizations.
The couple explained to me that in common
with many other Westerners who had seen the AIDS epidemic as a call to
arms against the perils of ignorance and promiscuity, they had felt it
was almost impossible to overstate the dangers. They helped one young villager
write a letter to schoolchildren. It said so many of his teammates
had died that 'we can't play football any more so behave, and you
won't get the disease like we did here'. The letter featured in pamphlets
prepared by a European Community AIDS prevention project and was distributed widely to schools
in west Africa.
'When we came here we had the textbook
knowledge of AIDS in our minds', Philippe said. 'That it is a sexually transmitted
disease; that it would be very easily transmitted in Africa because other
STDs are rampant; that many Africans are HIVpositive and would get
fullblown AIDS after one or two years, faster than in Europe; and that
the virus was passed from mother to child, affecting 50% of children. This
was what we had learned from our medical studies. And the people who showed
me what was happening here reinforced this belief. What I wrote in my journal
was with 100% bonne conscience'.
Four years on, Partage Tanzanie was now
employing some 230 fulltime staff, who were helping 7000 children
in 15 of Kagera's villages. There were 20 nurses, a doctor, a pharmacist,
a laboratory technician, office workers and teachers; and scores of field
workers who had got to know the children, caring for them at day centres,
monitoring their health and ensuring they were well fed. As a result of
the increasingly intimate understanding the Krynens acquired of the region
and its people, allied to the questions the couple started asking arising
from their own scientific training, a very different picture of what was
going on started to emerge compared with their first impressions.
The first clue that there might be something
wrong with the standard medical model of HIV and AIDS came when they started
to try to organise help for children in the border villages. 'Our aim was
to help the people help their children', Evelyne said. 'But in some of
the villages we found nobody was interested in the future, or in the kids,
any more. One reason, we thought, was that they had been told 4050%
were infected and were going to die, and this in a context where people
were indeed dying a lot, because of poverty and an upsurge in malaria'.
(Antimalarial drugs had helped more children through to early adulthood,
but left them still vulnerable to the disease. Previously, those who survived
the illness in childhood were more likely to have lifelong immunity).
'The young people were convinced they were
going to die anyway, so why should they think of the children or the future.
We said that even if 50% are infected, 50% are not, so let us find out
which are which. Then those who are free of the virus can think about the
A pilot study offering HIV tests to their
own staff produced a shock: only 5% were positive, although almost all
were young and sexually active. Perhaps they were unrepresentative, the
Krynens though because their level of education was above average. So in
1992 they proposed a mass testing programme in Bukwali, a village on the
border with Uganda where some of Africa's first AIDS cases had been reported
nearly ten years previously.
Encouraged by the promise that a clinic
would be established to give free treatment to anyone testing positive,
about 850 people agreed to take part almost the entire population
aged between 18 and 60. This time, 13.7% were found to be HIVpositive,
still much lower than the villagers had been led to believe. The Krynens
found that a single positive test could not be relied on repeat testing
would frequently show the same patient to be negative. The villagers may
have shown a higher rate of HIVpositives simply because they were
older, with an average age of about 42 compared with 24 in the staff study.
They had beer exposed for longer to 'whatever it is in Africa that can
so readily cause the blood to test positive', as Evelyn put it.
'We have noticed that with the women, the
more children they have, the more likely they are to be positive. We have
five HIVpositive women on our staff, and all have children, but a
stable life. It could be because being more in contact with doctors and
hospitals, and taking more drugs, or even just giving birth, causes you
to accumulate reactivity to the test. It may not have anything to do with
The Krynens also found that when appropriate
treatment was given to villagers who became ill with complaints such as
pneumonia and fungal infections that might have contributed to an AIDS
diagnosis, they usually recovered.
'All of a sudden you put all you have been
told about the disease in the garbage can, and try to reconsider', Evelyne
said. 'The 15 villages we have looked at are in the most affected area
of a region that is supposed to be at the epicentre of AIDS in Africa.
When you listen to the people, you find they had been shocked by some deaths
where the effects on the body were very visual, with fungus infections
and skin rashes. But these can be secondary effects of antibiotics, and
the people who died with these conditions had all been treated before for
conditions such as bronchitis. Nothing is sure; everything is just wind'.
Most of the first deaths reported as AIDS
were in young men trading in blackmarket goods in the aftermath of
the Ugandan war. It started at the border, where people were dealing in
drugs as well as other goods, said Philippe. 'It's true this group had
money and was affected with immune suppression and a wasting syndrome.
But it was not because they had sex like rabbits that they died. This
is what was put in people's minds by missionaries and other people, but
whatever killed them was not sexually transmitted, because they have not
killed their partners. They have not killed the prostitutes they were
using; these girls are still prostitutes in the same place'.
'Was it a special booze? Was it an amphetamine
or aphrodisiac? It is difficult to give more than hints, but when you listen
to the people's descriptions of those first affected, you find they were
saying they had been poisoned. If the local people said that, for two or
three years before the word AIDS came to the region, why don't we believe
them a bit, and look at what could have poisoned them'?
Today the couple are continuing to use
the HIV test, 'just to prove that we have to stop doing this, that it has
nothing to do with AIDS'. They are training their field workers not to
mention HIV or AIDS, but instead to deal with any known disease they encounter
with the best treatment available, regardless of the patient's HIV status.
'It is not known whether HIV causes AIDS', they say in a pamphlet produced
for the team. 'It is time to come back to science and abandon magic thinking'.
Philippe declares: 'There is no AIDS. It is something that has been invented.
There are no epidemiological grounds for it; it doesn't exist for us'.
If Kagera is not, after all, in the grip
of an epidemic of 'HIV disease', and if there is no AIDS, where have the
thousands of orphans come from? The answer, say the Krynens, is that most
of the children are not orphans at all. Their final disillusionment was
to discover that although many children are raised by their grandparents,
that is a longstanding cultural feature of the region.
'The parents expatriate themselves a lot',
Philippe explains. 'They move away from the region, sending a little money,
returning little or never, but still have many children in the village.
They are outwardly orphans, but raised by the grandmother or grandfather.
It has always been like this here; they may need help, but it has nothing
to do with AIDS. Polygamy is also rampant here and they don't raise all
the children. They select very few and the others are just made and abandoned'.
Other children are born to prostitutes, who may spend much of the year
away from the region, working in the cities.
'You come as a European and ask: 'Who has
no mother or father?' They produce all these children, even though they
have a mother or father in another place. We have been shown false orphans
since the beginning children who have parents who never died, but
who will not show up any more. And when the parent has died, nobody has
been asking why. It has nothing to do with an epidemic. Families just bring
them as orphans, and if you ask how the parents died they will say AIDS.
It is fashionable nowadays to say that, because it brings money and support'.
'If you say your father has died in a car
accident it is bad luck, but if he has died from AIDS there is an agency
to help you. The local people have seen so many agencies coming, called
AIDS support programmes, that they want to join this group of victims.
Everybody claims to be a victim of AIDS nowadays . . . It is good to know
that this epidemic which was going to wipe out Africa is just a big bubble
Posters warning of the dangers of ukimwi
(AIDS) adorn the cabins of the Victoria, a steamer that ferries passengers
on the ninehour journey from Mwanza, on the southern shore of Lake
Victoria, to Bukoba. When the Krynens first made the journey, they found
a small town with only a handful of foreigners and few cars. Today, as
the ferry arrives, the tiny port seizes up with vehicles, including the
white Land Rovers and Toyotas characteristic of the numerous AIDS agencies
that have flourished in much of central Africa.
'We have everybody coming here now
the World Bank, the churches, the Red Cross, the UN Development Programme,
the African Medical Research Foundation about 17 organizations reportedly
doing something for AIDS in Kagera', Philippe said. 'It brings jobs, cars
the day there is no more AIDS, a lot of development is going to go
The Krynens work hard. They keep files
on all their donor families and careful records of how the money is spent.
Their home, a modest bungalow on a hillside overlooking Lake Victoria,
is the hub of the project, with its own HIVtesting laboratory. All
day a stream of workers comes by to give feedback and take directions.
A few children who have nowhere else to go live in an adjoining building.
With such direct, practical help being given to suffering people, perhaps
it does not matter too much whether the children are AIDS orphans or not.
But the Krynens are angry because false information continues to be spread
to Africa and the world.
'Africa is a market for many things, an
experimental ground for many organizations and a 'good conscience' ground
for many charities', Philippe said. 'It is very easy to 'do good' in Africa.
It is so disorganised that the one who is doing the good is also the one
reporting the good he is doing. So it is a perfect field for charity
the fake charity which is 99% of the charity in Africa, charity which benefits
the benefactors. The Krynens felt strongly about this because of their own
involvement in triggering an invasion of AIDS agencies to Kagera. They now
know that the stories they told, of houses and villages abandoned because
of AIDS, were untrue.
'The houses that were empty were closed
because they were the second or third homes of someone in Dar es Salaam',
said Philippe. And the black crosses painted outside homes were leftovers
from a populalion census, not a warning of AIDS. 'I learned this later.
I have never seen a village with no adults, where children are like wolves
in the forest. You know who is responsible for these stories? Partly, Partage.
We said that if we did not do something very quickly, these villages would
be emptied of adults, and children would be like wild animals. The stories
have been printed and reprinted, without the 'if' '.
'My medical studies led me to believe that
AIDS was devastating and the people who showed me the situation here reinforced
this belief. I jumped into this, and made others believe it. And now I
know it was not true. But I know many more things that were not true. Nothing
'It is terrible to consider you have done
so many things you thought worthwhile, when in fact you were misled. It
is difficult to adjust afterwards. Nobody knows who is responsible for
the first misinterpretation, but as time passes it gets bigger and bigger.
These ideas were not based on any studies; they were just fashion. But
when you are here, and you have to witness the reality of what happens
in the field, you cannot agree with any of the statements they are making
in Europe about AIDS in Africa. We discovered we were in a fullblown
lie about AIDS. Everybody participates in this lie, willingly or not. No
individual is responsible, but it is a big scandal'.
'The world has been brainwashed about AIDS.
It has become a disease in itself, without the necessity of having sick
people any more. You don't need AIDS patients to have an AIDS epidemic
nowadays, because what is wrong doesn't need to be proved. Nobody checks;
AIDS exists by itself'.
'We came here to help orphans of AIDS.
Now we are facing a situation where there are no orphans and no AIDS. We
are in the heart of AIDS country. You are talking to people who 'discovered'
AIDS here, and who now say it is a lie. We expect to have to pay for what
we say. It will be the price of truth'.
Articles I filed from Africa were often
followed up or reprinted in regional and national newspapers there, after
they had appeared in The Sunday Times. With so much money and prestige
at stake, this caused some of the people I had interviewed to come under
great pressure to recant. They responded differently to these pressures.
Father D'Agostino was upset to see the
puzzlement and hope he had expressed in relation to the survival of his
'AIDS babies' put in the context of the wider critique of the HIV theory
of AIDS that The Sunday Times had been airing. To the medical profession,
this is a heresy, not just a different interpretation of the facts, and
a press release he issued on September 17 on behalf of the Children of
God Relief Institute, which runs Nyumbani, read more like a religious creed
than a comment from a scientist. It stated:
Recently, the London Sunday Times ran
a long frontpage story and the Nairobi Nation an editorial
page 'special report'. Both papers misconstrued the facts of the unfortunate
life circumstances of the children at 'Nyumbani' in order to prove an erroneous
thesis. While this does no harm to the children themselves, it does a grave
disservice to the larger community because it panders to the all too prevalent
mental process of denial. This denial only increases the universal and
deadly threat of HIV/AIDS. In order to correct these errors, we must assert:
(1) We do believe in the 'germ' theory
of disease as proposed by Louis Pasteur. This universally proven theory
is accepted by compassionate and credible scientists worldwide.
(2) We believe that there is a virus designated
'HIV' which has been isolated and is responsible for the fatal disease
(3) Since there is no cure for the ravages
of the HIV virus, we believe that the only strategy to contain and prevent
spreading of the disease AIDS is for all sectors of society to join hands
in creating awareness and, urge action in an appropriate manner.
(4) Compassion, understanding,
care and respect for human dignity must fashion any program to help those
suffering from HIV/AIDS.
(5) We invite any party so inclined to
help our efforts to assist in alleviating the tragic plight of those voiceless
HIV/AIDS sufferers the abandoned child.
(6) We totally disagree with any scientifically
unsubstantiable theory that denies the reality of the causation of the
The uncertainties Father D'Agostino had
clearly expressed in a recorded interview, as he pondered the surprising
good health of his foundlings, were now gone, replaced by a reaffirmation
of belief in the HIV doctrine of AIDS. I knew nothing of this press release
at the time I was still travelling through Africa, and had not even
seen the Sunday Times and although Father D'Agostino says
he faxed a response to the article to the newspaper's office, it was never
In fact, the first I knew of his dissatisfaction
was when I received the following letter, dated October 22, after I had
written to him on my return to London enclosing cuttings of my Africa articles.
I want to thank you for the courtesy of
sending the article appearing in the 3rd October edition and also for the
pleasant experience that we all had when you visited Nyumbani. That being
said, I must confess to some reservations.
You and I look at the world with quite
different perspectives. You, from that of a journalist and myself, as a
committed medical man. Our goals are quite different. I, after having spent
at least 14 full years in the pursuit of medical knowledge, am committed
to using that eclectic knowledge for the good of mankind. I am not espousing
any particular philosophy or theory when I attempt to enhance the body's
(and mind's) natural healing powers. That being said then, I quite disagree
with your point of view. I am trying to be charitable in assuming that
you have taken this task for humanitarian reasons, but I must say there
is a question about that at times.
I certainly question the Sunday Times approach
to the problem because it is quite evident that they are more interested
in selling copies rather than the pursuit of truth. They have no care for
the terrible consequences to people when they are permanently and fatally
injured by believing the misinformation that is being peddled. A primary
principle in the practice of conventional medicine is that if one cannot
do any good, at least do not do any harm. This principle is observed only
in the breach by the Sunday Times because they are doing great harm without
even considering the possibility . . . and for mere gold.
Another point: I was able to fax a response
to the article but never got any sort of admission of reception or acknowledgement.
Would it be possible for you to inquire as to whether or not they did receive
my fax and what they plan to do about it, if anything?
Finally, I want to state that this is not
a personal issue and I would look forward to your visiting us once again,
but this time, being quite open about our stand with regard to the terrible
consequences of the infection by the HIV virus.
With all best wishes, A. D'Agostino, SJ,
On October 29, I replied as follows:
Dear Father D'Agostino,
I was greatly distressed to receive your
letter of October 22 today. Firstly, because neither I nor the Letters
Editor had known anything of your sending a response to my article of October
3; and secondly, because of your evident distress over what you call the
Sunday Times approach to the issue of HIV and AIDS. I had felt that my
article was a straightforward description of what you had told me and what
I had observed for myself. I also know how much both the Editor and myself
have wanted to contribute to understanding about HIV and AIDS, and how
wrong you are to allege that we are doing harm 'for mere gold'. Have you
seen the other articles I filed? Some of the people involved in those have
subsequently come under bitter attack from parties who feel both the truth
and their own interests have been threatened, but perhaps the difference
is that they were aware of what a contentious issue this is.
It is not possible to back away from these
issues: the point of view to which the newspaper has been giving an airing
is that immeasurable harm, including much loss of life resulting from panic
and false diagnosis, is being done by the blind pursuit of the HIV hypothesis
against much evidence of its inadequacies. Indeed, we quoted accurately
Dr Timothy Stamps, Minister for Health and Child Welfare in Zimbabwe,
as saying 'the HIV industry . . . is now in my view one of the biggest
threats to health'.
Your own uncertainty was very clear when
we met. What has happened to make you write as you did? I do apologise if
you have been embroiled in a controversy against your wishes, but the strength
of feeling on this issue should help to indicate to you that something
may be terribly wrong in the view that your profession has currently espoused
so dogmatically about the cause of AIDS.
I thank you for your kindness in emphasising
that you do not see this as a personal issue. Please do send a copy of
your original fax to the Letters Editor, with a copy in the post in case
of further problems. Mark the letter clearly for the Letters Editor. I
should also be grateful to receive a copy: the news desk fax, which is
nearest to me, is ....
Neither I nor the newspaper ever received
that fax from Father D'Agostino. He told me by phone, when the issue flared
up again, that he had decided against sending it, after receiving my letter,
feeling that it was by then too late. But that did not stop him making
a statement the following January to the Independent on Sunday, a
newspaper which has been most vociferous in Britain in promoting the official
view on HIV and AIDS and in attacking my own reporting. In it, he condemned
the 'gross distortions and quite incorrect implication' made as a result
of my interviewing him, and declaring that he had received no acknowledgement
of his original fax.
I like and admire Father D'Agostino and
am sad that I caused him distress, but I feel quite sure we were right
to run the article. The quotes directly attributed to him were taken verbatim
from my recording and expressed his observations as a human being and a
doctor, as opposed to a politician and defender of the HIV faith. I can
understand his discomfort at the sweeping frontpage headline used on the
story, 'Babies give lie to African AIDS'. There was also an unfortunate
piece of editing, that attributed more uncertainty to him than he had expressed.
The article I filed from Nairobi included a paragraph in which I wrote:
'The suspicion is growing that many 'AIDS' cases are really old diseases
given a new name, though sometimes made worse by civil war and economic
and social decline, and that people who test HIVpositive are not,
as most have been led to believe, the victims of a new, inevitably lethal
disease'. The edited version correctly stated that in common with growing
numbers of scientists and doctors around the world, D'Agostino was beginning
to question whether HIV really was the killer it had been made out to be.
That was the purport of the entire interview, during which I had told him
about the Bio/Technology paper and the reappraisal of the HIV theory
of AIDS being sought by those doctors and scientists. But the article then
went on to state that 'He, like them, suspects that many 'AIDS' cases are
really old diseases given a new name . . .' etc., a suspicion I had not
attributed to him.
His statement to the Independent on
Sunday, however, made it plain that he was now putting all his
doubts behind him. He said four children in his care had since died of
AIDS out of a total of 55 with HIV, and that two or three others had AIDS.
He had no doubt, the paper reported, that children infected with HIV would
eventually succumb to AIDS.
Since my work in this field has so often
shown me how that very expectation among doctors tends to become a selffulfilling
prophecy, I rang D'Agostino in disbelief to ask him if that was really
what he now thought. Yes, he said, 'I never questioned the medical model;
the only thing I questioned was why they didn't die at three, why they
were still alive at seven. I never questioned that they would die. I know
they will succumb'. There was 'no question' in his mind that the four had
died of AIDS. In one, it had been carditis, that refused to clear up with
the most uptodate antibiotics. When I questioned whether that
was an AIDSdefining illness, and asked him about the other deaths,
Father D'Agostino grew angry and told me they died of HIV, and he was a
doctor, and I had no right to question his clinical judgement.
D'Agostino told me he had come under a
lot of pressure locally, in particular through medical channels, and I
do not know what other pressures he had to bear. But they could hardly
have been more intense than those that befell the Krynens after my article
about their changed vision of AIDS in Africa. The European Community's
AIDS Task Force, which had previously made a star of Philippe Krynen, now
disowned him and cancelled a promise of funding for Partage. There were
even attempts to have the couple thrown out of the country. They were also
invited to ecant, and condemn the Sunday Times, as in a letter received
from Dr. Angus Nicoll, consultant epidemiologist with Britain's Public
Health Laboratory Service, who inquired through Partage's headquarters
Further to my communication of December
20th I have been sent the attached letter and press release by Father D'Agostino
in Kenya. As you will read they are complaining of some misrepresentation
by the Sunday Times and are asking that the newspaper convey Dr. D'Agostino's
views. I also attach a copy of the original article . . . After reading
these letters I wondered whether Mr. and Mrs. Krynen had been fully happy
with their coverage and had had any experience like Dr D'Agostino in trying
to make a correction?
Philippe Krynen told me that he received
the same letter again in January. The answer suggested by such an amazing
approach, he said though he did not actually send it was 'questions
put by the police are only answered in the presence of our lawyer'. In
fact, he stood by and continues to stand by every word in our article.
In February 1994, the Journal of Infectious
Diseases published the results of a study conducted in Kinshasa, Zaire,
to try to establish whether HIV infection was associated with leprosy.
About 70% of 57 leprosy patients, and 30% of a group of 39 contacts, tested
positive according to two leading versions of ELISA. But after laboratory
investigations, it was found that proteins from the leprosy agent were
causing crossreactions with the 'HIV' test. When this was taken into account,
the researchers concluded that in fact only two of the leprosy patients,
and none of the contacts, were HIVinfected. Testing with Western Blot
was even more misleading. It gave a positive reaction in 85% of the patients
who were negative with the other tests. The authors, who included Harvard's
Dr. Max Essex, one of the originators of the theory that HIV originated
in Africa, pointed out that the microbe responsible for tuberculosis is
in the same family of mycobacterial agents. They concluded that ELISA and
Western Blot tests 'may not be sufficient for HIV diagnosis in AIDSendemic
areas of central Africa where prevalence of mycobacterial diseases is quite
These findings are exactly in line with
the Krynens' observations, with what Father D'Agostino originally allowed
himself to see, and with the Eleopulos paper in Bio/Technology. They
go to the root of the bad science that has misled so many into believing
Africa is in the grip of an epidemic of 'HIV disease'. The disease is in
the minds of the scientists responsible for creating this monumental blunder,
and for perpetuating it with campaigns to discredit those who have sought
to offer an alternative perspective
'AIDS' in Africa is a collection of illnesses,
some well known, others perhaps yet to be identified, brought together
under an artificial umbrella by their shared ability to cause millions
to give a positive result in what has come to be known as the HIV test.
As Professor P.A.K. Addy, head of clinical
microbiology at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana,
told New African magazine: 'I've known for a long time that AIDS
is not a crisis in Africa as the world is being made to understand. But
in Africa it is very difficult to stick your neck out and say certain things.
The West came out with those frightening statistics on AIDS in Africa because
it was unaware of certain social and clinical conditions. In most of Africa,
infectious diseases, particularly parasitic infections, are common. And
there are other conditions that can easily compromise or affect one's immune
'The diagnosis itself, merely being told
you have AIDS, is enough to kill, and is killing people'.
I salute the Krynens, and others like them
in Africa and elsewhere, who have been prepared to risk everything for
the sake of telling the truth as they see it. *